Female Dragonflies Will Literally Fake Their Own Death Just to Avoid Males

The animal world can be really intriguing and interesting especially when the mating season comes. Almost in every specie the females are being courted and they decide with whom they will mate, but sometimes they just want to avoid the males and be left alone. There are many ways how they do it, but the most original way is the one of female dragonflies that play dead and thus ignore their male counterparts.

The moorland hawker (Aeshnajuncea) is the dragonfly type that shows this behavior which was first detected by the scientist Rassim Khelifa from the University of Zurich while collecting larvae samples in the Swiss Alps. This biologist has been studying dragonflies for more than 10 years, but once he noticed this phenomenon he was very surprised. He observed a female dragonfly being pursued by a male, and in order to avoid him she simply laid motionless on her back, and as soon as her suitor was gone she took off.

Khelifa carried out a study on this particular behavior of female dragonflies and he concluded that almost each time the females pretended to be death the males flew away. The females do it by falling from the sky crashing to the ground and pretending to be dead. Khelifa reported high success rate in this performance, namely 27 out of 31 female dragonflies have succeeded in fooling the harassing males that they are dead and thus left alone.

Once the eggs of the female moorland hawkers are fertilized the male mates do not stay with them which make them more vulnerable to the harassment of other male counterparts.

This behavior was extremely interesting for Khelifa and because of that he tried to find out if this behavior is unique to species that lay eggs alone or it is more widespread.

Here it is how National Geographic explains this behavior of moorland hawkers, quote:

The mating ritual of the moorland hawker dragonfly—common around the ponds and wetlands of Europe, Asia, and North America—begins with what biologist Rassim Khelifa calls “an acrobatic aerial copulation.”

While in flight, the female Aeshnajuncea contorts so that her lady parts, which are near the end of her body, connect with the male’ parts, which are near his thorax. Thus joined in a lopsided-heart shape, they land and complete the sex act, whereupon the female will head off to lay her eggs.”

The males can go on mate with others, but a female dragonfly has a limited number of eggs and if she has been inseminated by the chosen mate, her reproductive tract can get damaged by repeated copulations. Therefore, she has developed a unique way to reject all the other males and thus protect her well-being.

Faking death by lying motionless is a known way for many vertebrates and invertebrates to discourage or ambush a predator. This immobile state is also recognized as tonic immobility, death feigning, or thanatosis.